Pilgrimpace's Blog

May Day


My friend Chris has reminded me of this fourteenth century poem by Gruffydd ap Dafydd from Richard Mabey’s excellent Flora Britannica.

Happy May Day



nature – catch up

Life seems to have been full recently, largely for good reasons, but I’ve not posted as much as I wanted to here.

There are a few interesting things on nature and nature writing that are on my pile of things to be read or shared.

Firstly is this fascinating couple of essays by Stephen Poole and Richard Mabey on the nature of nature writing and whether it is escapist whimsy or something more important.  This is really important for me – it is more than something I do in my leisure time and has deep connections to human wholeness and health with a lot to say to life in multiply deprived areas of the city.  This piece by Leonardo Boff suggests answers this question – as well as considerable work and struggle.

I have a number of books to read when there is time.


The New English Landscape is by Ken Worpole with photography by my good friend Jason Orton.  Details about it are on this blog.  I’m really looking forward to spending time reading it.  I will post a proper reflection on it soon.


As part of the Birmingham Literature Festival a few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon walking part of an urban river with the poet and bird watcher Matt Merritt.  This was excellent – especially with the chance to see how bird watchers experience nature with a focussed looking and listening that is different to my usual way of being.  There may be a poem on this in the pipeline.

I’ve long wanted to increase my ornithological knowledge.  Matt was kind enough to recommend the two books in the photo above which I am also looking forward to spending time dipping into during the coming months.

nature catch up

Robert MacFarlane writes on Environment: New Words in the Wild here.  It’s an interesting exploration of the new nature writing and the effect it can have.

Richard Mabey writes on learning to enjoy the weather here.

There’s an excellent ebook here by Mission:Explore and The John Muir Trust inspiring us to follow in the footsteps of John Muir.

act of faith
June 6, 2012, 12:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

“I suppose that in the end it is an act of faith to believe that the natural world is important to us, that we need to keep in touch with life that has a pattern unshaped by human hand, with the flow of the seasons, and with things as simply brightening to a dull day as a blackbird’s song and a buttercup.  Yet our country cottage daydreams and passionately tended backyard pot plants suggest it is a widely shared belief.  There’s a story that in the siege of Leningrad, the citizens used their furniture and even their doors for firewood rather than cut down the city’s trees.”

– Richard Mabey

for May Day

A day to remember who we are, where our roots are, why solidarity is so precious, to enjoy ourselves, and to renew ourselves for future struggle.

This piece, quoted by Richard Mabey in The Unofficial Countryside sums up so much:

I have seen three city girls sent crazy-drunk in springtime by the unknown, unexpected sight and smell of Council-laid-out beds of tossing daffodils, so that they rushed at them and picked them and threw them all in the air, like an ecstatic puppy in one’s arms will gobble up a bunch of violets, quite out of their senses – or maybe at last in them.

I have seen children in a park warned off from picking blossom, encouraged by a sympathetic adult to pick the dandelions that grew among the grass, thinking that was safe for them.  But I saw the dandelions whipped away by an outraged keeper who scourged them with withering words, and then before the children’s agonised eyes, rammed the flowers into a rubbish bin, smashing them down righteously to make sure they could not be rescued or revived.

The children of Council estates cannot keep animals, and cannot grow flowers.  I am sure children need to have fingers in soil, and their eyes looking into an animal’s, or a bird’s eyes.  These children are dissociated from the universe, and the rhythm of the universe.

– Leila Berg Look at Kids

round up

Mabey in the Wild is on Radio 4 on Sunday afternoons for the next few weeks.  Listen to his history of wild daffodils here.

Something Understood yesterday was on the healing power of gardens.  Listen here.

There’s a very interesting new book called Pathways by David Stewart and Nicholas Rudd Jones, looking at historical routes in Britain.  The Guardian is publishing  a walk a day from it here.

This book is on my Christmas list.

writing by walking and walking again

It’s been a full week, so no time for blogging.  Here, leading on from the last post, is some of Iain Sinclair’s introduction to Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside.  It brings together for me important connections between urban life, nature, the increasingly harsh political situation, and how we might live in a way that is fully human,

I remember the bright moments of my rock bottom employment, loading and unloading shipping containers, by the railway yards of Stratford East in the early Seventies … When Angel Cottage, a rustic gem festooned in creepers and blooms disappeared overnight as part of the great redevelopment package, I cried out, in my ignorance, for a small portion of the precision and lightly worn scholarship with which The Unofficial Countryside was mapped.  Without a proper accounting of loss, these acts are final: not a scratch on our consciousness when the listed building is replaced by a loud nothing, protected by a corrugated fence and a battery of surveillance cameras.  No record has been left behind of our shame in failing to resist.  And no memorial, in Mabey’s direct and effective prose, to the processes of weather, the complex entanglements of predatory humans and indifferent nature.

Now, in the age of the Grand Project, Richard Mabey’s excursions from thirty five years ago, undertaken in strong heart, never succumbing to impotent rage, seem prophetic.  Which is to say: true and right.  Inevitable.  Writing by walking, and walking again to gather up the will to write, was an obvious tactic; a mediated response to a dim period of failing industries, social unrest, power cuts: suppression of the imagination after the unbridled utopianism of the sixties.  But nobody else, at the moment of the book’s composition, took on the job in quite this way; and not, for sure, in this territory.